Virginia, playing its third straight game without ailing Coach Terry Holland, put the squeeze on Arkansas with a no-nonsense zone defense today and defeated the Razorbacks, 54-52, for the Cavaliers' second two-point victory within 24 hours.
The Cavaliers (10-9) never trailed in the second half, and Tim Mullen's four free throws clinched the victory in the final seconds. Mullen finished with 13 points, all in the second half.
Virginia's swarming zone limited Joe Kleine, Arkansas' 6-foot-11, 255-pound center, to 14 points, and the Cavaliers' defense hassled the Razorbacks (13-7) from the start.
The Cavaliers went with a tightly packed 1-2-2 zone, giving Kleine no room to work.
Kleine, who had been averaging 23.8 points, had 14 rebounds but found himself in a shoving match with Virginia's Olden Polynice and rarely got clear to score inside.
"We set the tone for the entire 40 minutes with that tight zone," said Dave Odom, a Virginia assistant coach filling in for Holland.
Holland, who entered the University of Virginia Hospital Thursday, his third hospitalization in a week for an intestinal problem, is still undergoing tests and will remain there indefinitely, a school spokesman said.
Although he apparently has been feeling better the last couple of days, Holland still cannot eat solid food, and doctors have decided to keep him there until they can diagnose the illness.
Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton visited Holland early this morning and said he was doing well. "He was a little antsy with some butterflies, but he was in good spirits."
The success of his team's zone should have kept Holland in good spirits.
"The basis of their offense is Kleine," Odom said. "I don't blame them for trying to get the ball in there to him. We knew he was going to get his shots.
"What we tried to do was limit the number of times he could catch the ball. Whenever he tried to catch it, there were three guys there," Odom said.
If Kleine was nullified, he also helped take Polynice out of the game offensively. Polynice, a 6-11 sophomore, had been averaging 13.3 points, but had only three points and seven rebounds. He did not score until 10:23 remained in the game. Picking up the slack were forward Tom Sheehey and guard Mullen.
Sheehey scored 12 points in the first half, helping the Cavaliers to a 28-27 lead. He was scoreless in the second half, and that's when Mullen stepped in.
Mullen's first two free throws came with 17 seconds remaining and the Cavaliers leading, 50-48. Arkansas forward Charles Balentine (18 points) had hit from 20 feet to make it a two-point game with a minute left.
But neither team could score until Mullen, fouled by freshman guard Allie Freeman, scored from the line.
Arkansas reserve guard Mike Ratliff snuck inside to close it to 52-50 with eight seconds left, but he fouled Mullen going back up the court. Mullen's two free throws made it 54-50 with six seconds to play. Kleine scored a meaningless layup at the buzzer.
"They did a great job of keeping the ball out of Joe's hands in the second half," Sutton said. "He must have gone seven minutes without touching the ball. It was to Virginia's advantage to play a low-scoring game. We tried to upbeat it, but we never got the tempo going."
The Razorbacks, who suffered their third loss in four games, led only twice, both times in the first half by one point.
Virginia's biggest lead was eight, coming at 8:47 in the second half when reserve forward Jim Miller's tip-in made it 44-36.
Arkansas outscored the Cavaliers, 12-6, over the next seven minutes, Kleine accounting for four and Balentine's jumper closing the gap to two. Then Mullen hit his foul shots.
Virginia forward Dan Merrifield sprained his left knee and was listed as questionable for Wednesday's Atlantic Coast Conference game against Maryland.
Merrifield, a 6-foot-6, 226-pound senior, became entangled with an Arkansas player while battling for a rebound and fell to the floor with about 16 minutes left.